Number of federal teleworkers hits all-time high

Monday - 7/9/2012, 5:28am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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More eligible federal employees say they routinely teleworked in 2011 than ever before.

The Office of Personnel Management found in its annual report to Congress that 25 percent, or 168,558, of the eligible workforce reported working outside the office at least one day a week. That is up from 10 percent of the eligible workforce in 2009. Agencies say a total of 684,589 employees are eligible to telework, or 32 percent of 2,165,390 federal workers.

John Berry, director, Office of Personnel Management

"Overall, the use of telework is expanding and improving in the federal government," wrote OPM Director John Berry in a letter to Congress. "Ensuring its effective use will save energy and expense, boost accountability and resilience, and bring our federal workforce the responsiveness and flexibility that is expected in the 21st century."

This is the first report since Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 into law in December 2010.

"We've reached an important milestone in implementation of the Telework Act, and we've seen some real progress at some agencies," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in a release. "But that progress is uneven among agencies. There is room for plenty of improvement and growth."

The telework law requires agencies to take specific steps to increase the number of employees working from outside the office.

OPM said of the 87 agencies surveyed — not all are required to meet the law's mandates — 86 percent of the agencies said they've notified all employees whether they are eligible to telework, and 81 percent of the agencies notify newly hired employees of their eligibility.

"Effective telework programs rely upon continued employee participation," the report stated. "To this end, it is important that agencies notify new hires of their eligibility to telework."

The law also required agencies to develop telework agreements with employees. Of the 82 agencies that responded to the question on the survey, more than 144,000 workers have these written understandings in place.

Most agencies provided online training to managers and employees for telework, the report stated.

OPM, for the first time, asked agencies to separately report on whether the agency provides technology and services.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)

The survey found out of 81 respondents, 20 agencies provide the equipment, 15 say the employee must have the equipment and 26 agencies say the costs are shared, while 20 agencies answered "other" to the question. OPM did not define what "other" meant.

Agencies, however, were less likely to provide services, such as Internet access, to teleworkers. OPM found 50 agencies said it was up to their employees to provide their own online services, while seven said they paid for it and 12 said they shared the cost. Again, 13 said "other" without a definition.

Agencies say management resistance and technology remain the biggest barriers to having more employees telework.

Among the employees who do telework, it's split evenly between working outside the office three days a week (27 percent), two days a week (28 percent) and one day a week (25 percent).

Several agencies have high rates of telework:

  • The Patent and Trademark Office - 82 percent
  • The General Services Administration - 59 percent
  • The Treasury Department - 48 percent
  • The Department of Health and Human Services - 42 percent
  • The Education Department - 41 percent

The law also encourages agencies to measure more than just participation rates, such as using telework for emergency preparedness, saving money or improving employee retention and recruitment.

OPM found 72 out of 80 agencies, which responded, say continuity of operations is a major non-participatory goal, while 53 say improving employees' attitudes, 53 say it will improve recruitment of employees and 52 say telework will improve retention of workers.

OPM said it will continue working with agencies to improve metrics, goal-setting and participation.

"The work of establishing a governmentwide automated telework data collection system is currently underway," the report stated. "OPM recently released new standards for the telework data to be collected via Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) program. In addition, an updated version of the governmentwide reporting requirements contained in the Guide to Human Resources Reporting (GHRR) was recently published. OPM will begin collecting pilot data in late summer and begin the work of establishing data reliability and validity through standard professional tests of data during the fall of 2012."

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